Though it sounds like Tarzan declaring himself a transvestite, Mee-Shee actually refers to a Canadian variant on the Loch Ness Monster. Except, that isn't really its name. More on that controversy later, but in the meantime a helicopter crashes in the Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. Alaskoil company man Sean Campbell (Bruce Greenwood) is forced to abandon his holiday plans with son Mac (Daniel Magder) and retrieve a multimillion dollar titanium drill-bit now stranded amidst the murky depths.
According to Indian guide Custer (Tom Jackson) - so-named because his father had a hell of a sense of humour - and local environmental protection officer Laura (Luanne Gordon), the lake is home to the mythical Mee-Shee. While exploring subterranean caves with Custer's little girl Pawnee (Jacinta Wawatai), Mac is saved from drowning by none other than Mee-Shee himself, although sworn to secrecy by the eccentric Crazy Norma (Rena Owen), who protects the creature. Meanwhile, a rival oil company sends psychotic saboteurs Neilds (Joe Pingue) and Snead (Joel Tobeck), who plot to torpedo Sean's submarine and nab the water giant as a sideshow freak.
This innocuous family movie was seemingly plagued with bad luck. Inspired by the folkloric creature, the Ogopogo, the Anglo-German co-production was intended to showcase Canadian talent and storytelling, yet wound up causing controversy. Although most aboriginal elders supported the movie, a lone Penticton chief objected to its use of what was considered a sacred creature. The creature's name was obligingly changed to Mee-Shee, but this kicked off a furious war of words between various cultural spokesmen. Fears of a harsh winter saw filming relocated to New Zealand, but lead actress Whoopi Goldberg was unwilling to make the trip and replaced by Once Were Warriors (1990) actress Rena Owen. Then to add insult to injury, a dispute with the German co-financiers led to the film going straight to DVD.
Mee-Shee: The Water Giant packs in plenty of picturesque shots presumably to highlight the local colour, although one doubts the Canadian tourist board benefited much since it's all New Zealand. Its theme in essence is that old family movie chestnut: the father who neglects or doesn't understand his son. You can practically set your watch by the predictable plot: mystical goings on; eco-friendly undertones; a worldly-wise little girl; corporate villains; romance between Sean and Laura; and father-son bonding over moments of sub-Spielbergian wonder. Director John Henderson did it all so much better in his underrated Loch Ness (1996). Here he struggles in vain with a limp script and a host of lacklustre performances. While the youngsters and Phyllida Law, as the kindly housekeeper Sean dubs Mary Poppins, make an effort, many of the supporting players look downright bored.
Special effects come courtesy of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, an amalgam of computer graphics and animatronics. A curiously saggy-faced beastie, Mee-Shee is described as a cross between a walrus and a dolphin by Mac, but his wrinkly visage was supposedly inspired by actor Walter Matthau! The monster mash finale offers mild fun and pulls a twist that recalls Gorgo (1961), the granddaddy of all vengeful monster parent movies. It passes the time, but kids in search of decent underwater monster fare would be better off with Magic in the Water (1995), The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (2007) or Henderson's earlier Loch Ness.